Lately, a number of my friends have asked the question: Should I get rid of cable? Ten years ago, the answer would be yes only if you didn't watch any cable network television shows, at which point you could simply go back to an antennae. With the advent of digital television, that has become a more complicated question. On one hand, there are millions of shows and events offered through streaming digital services like Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and even YouTube. But, there are still limitations that might prevent some from bailing on cable altogether.
Personally, I would love to never have to be beholden to Comcast or U-verse or DirecTV or Dish Network again. But running a straight streaming system isn't for everyone (never mind the fact that you'll need a broadband connection from a company like Comcast to make it go). And, unless you want to pay for each episode of a particular show, you will need to ask yourself a few questions before making the leap.
Do you watch any shows that are not available through Netflix, Hulu, etc.?
There are shows that are only available on live TV. Person of Interest on CBS has no streaming deal, so you either watch it live or pay for it per episode. Also, numerous other smaller cable networks and lesser known shows are unavailable through streaming as well. You could also wait for the series to end and either buy the DVDs or stream them when they eventually show up, which is an increasingly palatable option for many.
Do you watch shows on HBO or Showtime?
If you are a big Game of Thrones or Dexter fan, you will have to have a subscription to those networks in order to stream their programming. Currently, the only way to do that is to have a cable provider.
How much TV does your family watch?
This may not seem like a serious consideration, but if multiple family members watch television on a regular basis, especially if you like to watch it at the same time, you could run into some issues. Even if you had multiple streaming devices like Roku or Apple TV, you only have one broadband connection. Get enough people streaming TV and using the Internet at once, and someone may not be able to watch. This probably isn't a big deal for single people or couples without kids, but throw a couple teenagers in the mix and cable may be your only option.
Are you an Apple user?
If you are, it does offer more options than if you aren't. With Apple TV, you can stream virtually anything on your computer on any TV connected to an Apple TV box, and you can do it wirelessly. While you can use Apple TV with PCs as well, the options are more limited.
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Are you fairly technically savvy?
This and the next question are the two most important questions on the list. If you have downloaded a bit torrent file or watched illegal streams of television shows and movies online, you are technologically engaged enough that you probably don't need cable. The vast majority of people just aren't this far along in their understanding of technology, however.
Do you watch live sports?
This is my achilles heal when it comes to the decision of streaming versus cable. The Texans are almost always on a broadcast network, but if you go beyond the NFL and want to watch basketball or baseball or college sports, your choices are either cable or a sports bar and I prefer the comfort of my own home when watching a game.